Jo Martin, Managing Director at Brand New You New Zealand
What's a personal brand, and should you think about yours? At its simplest, and paraphrasing Jeff Bezos, your personal brand is the words people use to describe you when you are not in the room. Based on that, we all have one. Some are just better at defining and refining their personal brands than others. Your personal brand is about how you make people feel. It's your story.
At BNY, we repeatedly use the same words when working with people to develop their personal brands. The words on high rotation are Distinctive, Deliberate and Coherent.
What Do They Mean for Your Personal Brand?
The people with the most powerful personal brands are these three things.
Being distinctive means being you. When you are authentically you, you are naturally distinctive because there is no one exactly like you. But the key is knowing what pieces of you make you unique and how to dial up the good bits.
Being deliberate is about picking the pieces of yourself that you want to show the world. It is about understanding what you project and how it is likely to be received. You can be whatever you want to be – think about who your audience is. Be deliberate.
In marketing, consistency has always been an essential part of building a strong brand. And it is no different with your personal brand. We don't like inconsistent people, and we don't trust inconsistent people. Building a strong personal brand is about building trust. And trust is built on knowing who people are and what they stand for. This has become exponentially more important in recent times. One of the impacts of current uncertainty, especially COVID, and the USA's political situation and the climate crisis, have led us to question and challenge who and what we put our trust in.
What has become essential for building strong brands (consumer/ business/ personal) is the idea of being coherent. It is being known. You are standing for something and making it understood immediately. We have far more buy-in with brands that have values that align with ours. So, knowing what you stand for, what your values are, and then working out how to make them recognisable is the third piece of the personal branding puzzle.
Think of building your personal brand like writing your own story. That's not to say it should be fake or fantasy - we can always eventually spot and dislike fake people. It is why the word authentic gets so overused. It should be you, focusing on the best bits, the bits that people want to "buy", the bits people can connect with. Connection is the key.
Lockdowns, social distancing and working from home are all familiar scenarios for us in 2021. They make it harder to connect with people, get to know and like people, and build that trust. It is a weird thing only to see people on screen from the shoulders up – we miss a lot of body language and nuance that we pick up when we engage with people face to face. It means we must work harder and concentrate more on standing out and being known, telling our story. It makes working on your personal brand more valuable than ever.
Where to Start?
AT BNY, we start with getting a good picture of the individual – who you are, what drives you, what you are good at, and your values. After a combined many, many years working in the field, we believe one of the most valuable and simple tools to get started is the VIA Character Strengths survey. Developed by two of the world's leading psychologists, Dr Martin Seligman and Dr Chris Peterson, the VIA Institute has its foundations in positive psychology. It works on the basis (after many years of extensive research) that all humans are a unique combination of 24-character strengths, irrespective of location, era, age, gender, nationality, or religion.
There is a free online survey that you can fill out (more than 9 million people have completed the survey to date), and at the end, it ranks your character strengths from one to 24. We are most interested in your top five, your signature strengths.
Your signature character strengths are the combination of your values, your skills, your talents, and your beliefs. VIA stands for values in action, and you can think of your signature strengths as being the things that are fundamental to you and the way you behave in the world. They are the things that drive your decisions and your behaviours, and they are the fuel for your talents. We all know people who have masses of natural talent and never get very far – they probably don't have perseverance as a leading character strength. Similarly, those with moderate talent who massively over-achieve probably have perseverance as a top character strength.
This tool is so helpful from a brand perspective because many people find it challenging to unpack who they are, which helps you write your story. Not to mention, it is also a positive, pleasant experience – they are all good words. But the essential part is getting to know yourself and what you want to project first.
Then What Do You Do?
We work with clients on how to activate their strengths. How to write your story and communicate (in-person and online) your strengths, and we look at scenarios where your strengths can be used to your advantage. It's about understanding what tools you have in your tool kit and knowing which ones to use in each situation. Remember distinctive, deliberate, and coherent …
Keeping it simple, someone whose top signature strengths are humour, zest, bravery, honesty, and creativity should look, act, speak, dress, and use language different from someone whose signature strengths are perspective, prudence, humility, kindness, etc. and spirituality. While that seems simplistic, it is, in reality, an important piece of the distinctive and deliberate puzzle.
How we speak, act, look, move, dress, and choose words combine to make our personal brand. People with compelling personal brands are deliberate and consistent with these things. Think about some famous examples. Like him or not, Elon Musk has a powerful personal brand. He's enigmatic. We all know who he is, but we seldom see all of him. His brand is based on a sense of mystery – he's so far out in front of us – looking to the future that we can't keep up with him. He makes us feel like anything is possible.
Take Barrack Obama, or even Donald Trump – in fact, most US presidents. Whatever you think of their politics, we recognise these men. Barrack Obama is a cool voice of reason, his tone is measured and eloquent, and he is always immaculately dressed, even when casual. He looks in control. Donald Trump is the opposite. He is loud and speaks in sound bites. He is bravado and bluster and noise. Both former presidents make us feel something, and that is more than politics. It is a personal brand.
Why Should You Start Working On Your Personal Brand?
In today's workforce, there is a viable alternative for every single one of us. Someone online somewhere can do our jobs. There is someone else who is similarly qualified and can do the same job with the same level of skill. Your qualifications and abilities get you an interview. (Your CV should include a personal statement that provides insight into how you make people feel and what you value – your story.) Why will someone hire you? When the time comes to make a job offer, more often than not, there have been conversations between the decision-makers.
The conversations tend to include phrases such as "I think she'll fit in with the team", and "I think he'll work well with X", and "I like her energy", or simply, "I like him." It might be your voice, the words you choose, how you enter the room. Humans operate on first impressions, and, as the saying goes, you can't repeat a first impression. So, you want to develop the skills to get these things right. Quickly.
In the end, it always comes down to how you make people feel. When you are deliberate, distinctive, and coherent - that's the power of your personal brand.
About the Author
Jo Martin is an Auckland based personal branding consultant with over 15 years of experience in PR, marketing and journalism. Before joining Brand New You, Jo was responsible for launching several French luxury brands into the British marketplace, including Longchamp, Anne Fontaine and La Maison de Chocolat; managing the launch activity and ongoing marketing and public relations campaigns. Jo has a Bachelor of Arts in English and Political Studies, Honours in Journalism and Post-Graduate Diploma in Marketing and Communications. Find her on Linkedin.